Kosovo rejected call by Western governments to allow its Serbian minority to vote in a Serbian referendum in the same way it has in recent years
A joint statement from the highest authorities in Kosovo said that Serbs can only vote by mail or at a liaison office, without following the past practice of setting up polling stations in areas dominated by Serbs.
Kosovo’s laws “do not recognize the right of a state to hold a referendum on the sovereign territory of another state,” said a statement from the office of Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani. “The practices applied so far since 2012 are unconstitutional. “
The decision is likely to further strain relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade has refused to recognize.
A delegation of Kosovo Serbs discussed the issue in Belgrade on Friday with Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic.
Sunday’s referendum focuses on amendments which the Serbian government says would strengthen the independence of the Balkan country’s judiciary as part of the reforms needed to bring the country closer to EU membership.
“We note with regret that the government of Kosovo has not authorized the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to collect the ballots from eligible voters living in Kosovo for the next referendum, in accordance with the practice past “, indicates the statement of the Western powers. .
“We call on the government of Kosovo to allow Kosovo Serbs to exercise their right to vote in elections and electoral processes in accordance with this established practice,” he added.
Serbia has insisted that Kosovo remains part of the country, despite its declaration of independence following a 1998-99 conflict that killed some 13,000 people and ended after NATO bombed Serbia to stop its crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Serbia has maintained a strong influence in the Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo although it officially has no authority over the territory since it was forced to relinquish control in 1999. Tens of thousands of Serbs live in Kosovo, mainly in the north, next to Serbia.
In a statement released following a senior officials meeting with ambassadors from the five Western countries and the EU, Kosovo President, Parliament Speaker Glauk Konjufca and Prime Minister Albin Kurti insisted that “the issue is not the role of the OSCE, but the role of Serbia and its parallel and illegal structures in Kosovo.
The statement added that “prior to the vote-gathering by the OSCE, a completely illegal process of opening polling stations and ballot boxes in the territory of the Republic of Kosovo for a referendum of another state, namely Serbia, would take place ”.
The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo remains a source of tension in the Balkans. EU-mediated negotiations aimed at normalizing relations produced little progress, although Kosovo and Serbia were urged to resolve their differences in order to move forward with their application for membership. the EU.